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Utter disrespect for legal rights

As you’ve hopefully heard by now, the government has decided to release “enemy combatant” Yaser Hamdi to Saudi Arabia without any charges being filed. Hamdi’s story is instructive of the extent to which the Bushies will go and proof of their utter disregard for legal process.

Hamdi, a US citizen, was turned over to US forces by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. He was declared an enemy combatant and “deemed so dangerous that the American military held him incommunicado for more than two years.” He was held in solitary confinement for nearly three years. Then, a public defender voluntarily stepped in and sought what any US citizen would ask — a right to a lawyer and a hearing.

Bush, Ashcroft and crew refused, fighting tooth and nail all the way to the Supreme Court. Fortunately, the Supreme Court reached what would seem to be an undisputable proposition: the constitutional guarantee of due process “demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker.” Naturally, Justice Thomas was the only member of the Court to vote against Hamdi, basically accepting the government’s “trust us” argument.

Evidently realizing the conclusion a neutral decisionmaker would reach, the Bushies decided to release Hamdi, albeit on the condition he give up his US citizenship and agree to certain travel bans. But look at what the government told the Supreme Court during oral argument(PDF file): “There are troops still on the ground in Afghanistan. It makes no sense whatsoever to release an individual detained as an enemy combatant in Afghanistan while the troops are still on the ground in Afghanistan.” Seems to me troops are still on the ground there. What has happened since last summer to render Hamdi no longer an enemy combatant? Could it be he never was to begin with?

This is another area where voters need to hold Bush accountable. First, he and his crew have no qualms about acting as if they alone should determine whether a US citizen should be afforded rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Second, the Great Misleader and his cronies are more than willing to say someone is a dire threat to this country and, when finally challenged, bail out rather than produce supporting evidence. No wonder they fear the Constitution applying to people they detain.

As a closing aside, should we be surprised that the following appears in connection with the deportation of Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens: “Officials said they could not provide specifics on Islam’s alleged ties to terrorists.” When will voters tire of hearing this administration saying “trust us”?

UPDATE: Go read Dahlia Lithwick’s “Nevermind” at Slate.com.

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